In the past decade, trendy sports clubs have cropped up in all major
Japanese cities, from Sapporo to Naha. Sweating bodies move in
rhythm to the strains of popular American rock music. The sing-song
calls of the aerobics instructorcompetewith the clank of heavy weights
and the noisy chatter of members relaxing over a soda or snack. Young
women flock to aerobics classes suited up in colorful and strappy leo-
tards, complete with perfectly styled ponytails, lipstick, and mascara.
Fully aware of the cigarette-smoking men who cluster in the doorway,
for these women fitness is not only about cardiovascular health.
Expensive beauty salons (esute) prey on and encourage this desire to
slim down and ‘‘bust up,’’ guaranteeing results in two weeks or
Beauty aid supply stores display home sauna (masks, corsets, or biking
shorts made of thick, unbreathable material to cause excessive sweat-
ing), metabolism-altering diet pills, and the infamously dangerous diet
tea. Popular women’s magazines devote entire issues to topics such as
‘‘Let’s Become a Body that Doesn’t Get Fat Again!’’ (an-an 1996) and
‘‘Making a Beautiful Body in ’95: Leg Slimmers’’ (Can-Cam 1995). The
message of the beauty industry in Japan is unavoidable: Thin is beauti-
aimed at building and sculpting a stronger and leaner body, would be
a booming business in Japan? Well, yes and no.
Contemporary Japan seems particularly primed for the popularity of
exercise and aerobics, given the state’s aggressive push for increased
leisure and healthier lifestyles, a precedence of widespread and enthusi-
astic consumption of American imports, the flourishing beautyand diet
industry, and a cultural system of achievement that awards hard work,
industriousness, and discipline. So why haven’t fitness clubs been able
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